Alcohol consumption is an established risk factor for several malignancies including breast cancer. Breast cancer in women is the most common cancer worldwide and the leading cause of cancer-related mortality. The role of heavy drinking has long been established as a contributor to breast cancer, and recent research has shown that even moderate drinking may be contributory. This year more than 23,000 women in the US will develop breast cancer.
Alcohol-associated cancers tend to be estrogen receptor (ER) positive and progesterone receptor (PR) positive. Studies examining the potential effect of alcohol on circulating estrogens have not identified a consistent correlation, but recent research has identified a cancer-causing gene that is triggered by alcohol use. The study objective was to determine how alcohol effects the actions of estrogen in breast cancer cells. The researchers not only established that alcohol increases estrogen-induced cell proliferation, but they also found a direct link between alcohol, estrogen and a cancer causing gene in promoting cancer cell growth.
The researchers first demonstrated that alcohol increases estrogen-induced cell proliferation. This finding is significant as many other studies have not been able to establish this important link. Researchers also found that the proliferation caused by alcohol took place at a lower alcohol-level than expected, suggesting that even light and moderate alcohol intake may proliferate breast cancer cells. (As a point of reference, light consumption equals approximately 1 glass of beer or wine per day, and moderate consumption is 2 glasses per day).
The study found that alcohol promotes the expression of the cancer-causing gene BRAF which has estrogen mimicking and enhancing effects. Even in the absence of estrogen, alcohol was found to promote the sustained expression of BRAF, which may enable it alone to mimic estrogen in increasing breast cancer risk. Researchers also found that the combination of estradiol and alcohol creates an ever higher expression of BRAF, suggesting the combination of estradiol supplementation and alcohol consumption may increase the risk factor of breast cancer.
Additionally, alcohol was found to weaken the cancer drug Tamoxifen’s ability to suppress the growth of cancer cells. This finding suggests that women who are being treated for breast cancer may have poorer response to therapy and less successful outcomes if consuming alcohol during treatment.
When interviewed about their findings, researchers expressed that their ultimate goal is breast cancer prevention, and stressed that their findings have implications for women who are undergoing hormone replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms. They also suggested their research highlights long-term health effects for younger women in a heavy drinking environment, such as college campuses, where many women use an estradiol-containing oral birth control pill. "We want to provide women, in general, with more information and insight to be better able to balance their consumption of alcoholic beverages with the potential health risks, including cancer patients who may want to take into consideration the potential detrimental effects alcohol consumption might have on treatments and modify their behavior and habits accordingly."
Labrix co-founder Jay Mead MD will be presenting the latest information on breast health and state of the art diagnostic tools at Labrix Advanced Workshop. To secure your space, register here.